RYLE DWYER: Kerry will be the loser as O’Leary plays hard ball with Government

SOME people seem to develop exotic addictions. At one time addicts were limited to alcohol and hard drugs, but then soft drugs like tobacco and cannabis were added. Now sex is included, since Tiger Woods was treated in a clinic.

The British media were talking about Wayne Rooney as the greatest footballer in the world earlier this year, but now he is in the doldrums – some of the media are writing about him and Tiger as if they are washed up.

Addiction to sex is not something new. There was always nymphomania, but that applied only to women. People would say, with a nod and wink, that the male equivalent was “just a bit of a lad”. Such men were admired and envied. Apologists for Woods and Rooney are currently blaming the publicity for their loss of performance.

Other people seem to get hooked on publicity. It is often hard to determine whether Michael O’Leary of Ryanair is being serious or is just looking for publicity with his outrageous and unconventional suggestions. In addition to describing himself as “an obnoxious little bollix,” he has, for instance, also suggested charging for toilet paper, doing away with co-pilots on flights and providing “standing room only” space on aircraft.

After filling the seats, would he have people standing in the isles? Somehow, I don’t really think any of those proposals was serious. It was just his way of attracting publicity.

During the volcanic ash controversy earlier in the year Cathal Guiomard, the Commissioner for Aviation Regulation, stated categorically on Pat Kenny’s radio programme that airlines were responsible for the upkeep of passengers stranded abroad due to flight cancellations.

EU regulation 261 established rules on assistance to passengers in the event of long delays or cancellation of flights. Passengers were entitled to claim from the airline a reasonable amount for their meals and accommodation while stranded abroad, Guiomard explained.

“We will not be meeting those bills,” Michael O’Leary stated defiantly on RTÉ’s lunchtime news. “We are going to apply exactly the same provisions that apply to trains, ferries and coaches to compensate. The refunds that you would be entitled to receive would be limited to the airfare you paid us... The law in this case is an ass.” Next day he was back on the programme, decidedly chastened. “We have reversed the decision of yesterday,” he said. “This morning I’ve announced, we will comply with the EU 261 regulation which will entitle passengers to recover their reasonable receipt of expenses for hotel and meals.”

Some people were undoubtedly low on money at the end of their holiday.

They would have stayed at the airport because they could not afford a hotel, so Ryanair avoided having to pay for their accommodation.

Since then O’Leary has put the boot into the Government over Hanger Six at Dublin airport. The Government was not prepared to get Aer Lingus to hand over the hangar to Ryanair, so O’Leary exported 500 jobs to various European airports.

In recent months he has been squealing about the €2 tourist tax introduced by the Government on all Irish air passengers, along with increased landing fees at Dublin airport. In May 2008 he tendered for the public service obligation (PSO) to provide three return flights between Dublin and Kerry daily. He offered to do it for a subsidy of €1.75m a year, compared to the €3m that Aer Arann was seeking.

Transport Minister Brian Lenihan, father of the current finance minister, officially opened the airport at Farranfore in 1969.

The airport was in deep financial trouble in the early 1970s because it was largely dependent for funding on its bar trade and the sale of hay to local farmers. With local support, money was raised to clear the debt in 1976. The first regular commercial flights were part of a twice-weekly service to Dublin, which Aer Arann initiated in 1979.

During those formative years the airport was fortunate to have some influential supporters like Taoiseach Charlie Haughey whose interest in Kerry was enhanced by his holiday home off the coast. His government provided a £150,000 grant to the airport in 1981.

As Tánaiste from 1983-’87 Kerry North deputy Dick Spring was in an influential position to help. The late Paddy J Moriarty, a native of the Dingle area, was chief executive of the ESB and he helped considerably in the provision of proper runway lighting to facilitate night landings.

In 1989 Haughey was back in power to help in extending the runway for larger commercial flights as the airport evolved from a club facility to a serious commercial concern. It aimed initially to facilitate distinct interests such as tourism and the many thousands of Kerry people who had emigrated and wished to avail of the opportunity of a quick visit home. Denis Brosnan, as chief executive of Kerry Group, recognised the importance of a commercial airport.

He played a vital role as chairman of the finance committee raising money to establish not just a regional airfield, but what had once seemed like a ludicrous dream – an international airport at Farranfore.

With the extension of the runway Aer Lingus introduced daily flights to Dublin and Ryanair established a daily link with London. Suddenly Kerry was no longer an isolated corner of Ireland.

There was an interesting debate on Kerry Today last Thursday morning between Michael O’Leary and John O’Donoghue, the Dáil deputy from Kerry South.

At times it was quite robust with O’Donoghue accusing Ryanair of breaching its contract with Kerry airport and O’Leary denouncing Transport Minister Noel Dempsey.

SINCE Ryanair tendered for the Dublin flights in May 2008, Dempsey has increased the costs by introducing the tourist tax and directing Dublin airport to increase landing charges. These cost Ryanair €660,000 annually on the Kerry-Dublin route. The airline was entitled to apply for compensation to the minister, but he rejected the application.

O’Leary says Ryanair would provide the three flights daily if the Government removes the increase. It has given the airport the required three months notice that it is terminating its contract. From November Ryanair will only provide one daily return flight between Dublin and Kerry on a strictly commercial basis.

The minister is threatening to invite Aer Arann to resume its three PSO return flights to Dublin daily. But Aer Arann was asking for €3m in 2008. Even in the changed circumstances, Ryanair is effectively offering to do it for €2.41m. Will Aer Arann be looking for €3.66m?

O’Leary is essentially calling the Government’s bluff. “We are not going to be stiffed,” he told Kerry Today. “We don’t get angry,” he added.

No, they get even, as the Government should know from the Hangar Six debacle.

Ultimately the real losers will be the people of Kerry and, despite O’Donoghue’s bluster, the responsibility will rest with the Government which persists in exhibiting the same lousy leadership and selfish stupidity that has brought the country to its knees economically.


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